The Doctor’s greatest secret has been discovered, and it compels the Time Lord to travel to his own tomb on Trenzalore for one final confrontation with the Great Intelligence and the resolution of the mystery of Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl.
Setting up the 50th
I’m Clara Oswald. I’m the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor.
If the journey which brought us here has been an uneven one, the destination proved to be worth the effort. The Name of the Doctor was predictable in one way only – that there was no way Steven Moffat was ever going to reveal the Doctor’s real name, a reveal he sidestepped by having River Song utter it off-screen. But from the jaw-dropping pre-credits sequence which saw Clara crossing paths with each of the seven ‘classic’ Doctors – completely rewriting Who history in the process – to the final reveal of John Hurt as the Doctor’s ‘black sheep’ regeneration, this is a story which grabs you by the lapels and refuses to let go.
Like previous Moffat finales, Name revolves around timey-wimey and represents a threat to the entire universe. But unlike his previous finales (both of which, incidentally, I loved), this one revolves around a simple threat (the Great Intelligence tampering with the Doctor’s timeline to turn every victory into a defeat) with a simple solution (Clara following it into the timeline to act as an antibody to the contagion).
That’s it, really. We have a simple but beautifully realised monster of the week in the Whisper Men, the return of Vastra’s little band of adventurers and one more appearance for River Song which brought a surprisingly effective sense of closure to the character.
Let’s start with the Doctor and River. Since the season four two-parter Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, we have seen the two meeting up from opposite ends of their respective timelines. In Forest, River says her goodbyes to David Tennant’s Doctor as she reaches the end of her tale but for him is just their first meeting. Here, Matt Smith‘s Eleventh Doctor finally gets to say his goodbye to his wife and the daughter of former companion Amy Pond. It’s a touching scene, and one which gives us one final glimpse of the familiar banter between the two characters. Smith’s performance here and throughout the episode is breathtaking.
When you are a time-traveller there is one place you must never go.
Trenzalore – both from orbit and on the surface – is beautifully portrayed, taking up a significant proportion of this year’s CGI budget. The notion of a dead TARDIS as the Doctor’s tomb seems somehow fitting and redoubles his ship’s resistance to landing there – not only is the Doctor crossing his own timeline at his point of death but so too is the TARDIS. That one’s death – or at least the site of one’s tomb – is the worst place a time-traveller can go is a deft touch, as is the idea that time travel damages the universe, leaving behind scar tissue that manifests itself as a physical representation of the Doctor’s timeline which the Great Intelligence exploits as its plan to finally destroy the Doctor.
A universe without the Doctor – there will be consequences.
It is Vastra who first realises the impact of changing the Doctor’s timeline. On a personal level, Jenny is simply erased from existence and Strax turns on her, forcing her to kill him in self-defence. On a grander scale, whole planets and galaxies wink out of existence – echoing the Tenth Doctor’s season four finale The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, among others.
I’m the Impossible Girl – and this is why.
With the Doctor being destroyed from within his own timeline and history being rewritten all around them, Clara’s selfless act instantly elevates her to being the most important companion in Who history. Other companions have saved the Doctor in the past, but none to the extent that she now does. And the level of influence she exerts over the Doctor even extends to which TARDIS the First Doctor steals to escape Gallifrey – although it does flatly contradict Idris’ assertion in The Doctor’s Wife that the TARDIS chose the Doctor as much as he chose it.
The intercutting of scenes from classic Who episodes (and occasional use of stand-ins) into the story is a fan’s dream, but none packs quite the same punch as the revelation of John Hurt as the one incarnation who didn’t live up to the name of ‘The Doctor’ – the subtle realisation of the episode’s title.
Is this the Valeyard, supposedly the Doctor’s penultimate regeneration as encountered in the Sixth Doctor story The Ultimate Foe? That character was an amalgamation of the darker side of the Doctor’s nature – his description of him as “the one who broke the promise” certainly suggests this is a possibility. Is he actually the Doctor’s penultimate incarnation, or does he perhaps fit in between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctors as the one who ended the Time War? (Remember, McGann to Eccleston is the only regeneration we have never seen.) I guess we will have to wait until the 50th anniversary special on November 23rd to find out. But as a lead-in to that story and as a season finale which brings together threads which were seeded as far back as five years ago, this was one hell of an episode.
- Strax goes to Glasgow every other weekend to participate in what appears to be a Victorian version of Fight Club.
- Clara trying to make a souffle at the Maitlands’ house – a clear echo of Asylum of the Daleks.
- Strax’s description of River Song: “Oh no, not the one with the gigantic head.”
- “Time travel has always been possible in dreams.” A beautiful little nod to the show’s viewers and the power of imagination.
- The painfully awkward discussion between River and Clara, as the former realises how little the Doctor has shared with his new companion about their history together, with Strax commenting to an increasingly embarrassed Vastra, “Have you gone a darker green?”
- The Doctor’s response to being taken for a ride by Angie and Artie: “The little … Daleks!”
- The Great Intelligence rattles off a list of races and people whose blood is on the Doctor’s hands, including the Sycorax (The Christmas Invasion) and Solomon the trader (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship).
- The TARDIS may be dead, but we do weakly hear the Cloister Bell once the Doctor and his companions enter the tomb.
- River’s final farewell: “Goodbye, sweetie” is a perfect echo of her usual greeting, “Hello, sweetie.”